Tesla hit kind of a rough patch last week. First, Consumer Reports removed its "Recommended" seal of approval from the Model S because of predicted reliability issues, and then videos started surfacing showing the recently launched Autopilot software making apparent driving mistakes.
Elon Musk is not the kind of CEO who keeps quiet about these things, so he took to Twitter to comment on both things. First, let's look at what he had to say about the Consumer Reports story:
Consumer Reports reliability survey includes a lot of early production cars. Already addressed in new cars.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 21, 2015
It is true that because the Model S hasn't been around for long and because it is an entirely new platform (not just a slightly modified Camry), early production models might have more "bugs" than later ones.
Tesla has had the philosophy of improving its products continuously, both via software and hardware updates, so it's hard to tell where cutoff points are for potentially more problematic vehicles, but in theory, more recent ones should have the benefit of more manufacturing tweaks than older ones.
This is not to say that newer Model S EVs are perfect, though. Consumer Reports has found problems with them too...
Tesla gets top rating of any company in service. Most important, CR says 97% of owners expect their next car to be a Tesla (the acid test).— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 21, 2015
Which brings us to Musk's second point. Do these problems matter if Tesla's service is excellent, the warranty covers problems, and 97% of Tesla owners say they would buy a Tesla again if given the choice?
I suppose the question is: Does the fact that almost everything about the Model S is so much better than a traditional vehicle compensate for the slightly iffy reliability? Hopefully Tesla fixes these issues and it stops being a tradeoff in the future...
Musk also had a few things to say about the Autopilot software:
Autopilot 1.01 coming soon: curve speed adaption, controller smoothness, better lane holding on poor roads, improved fleet learning!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 23, 2015
The list of improvements seems to cover most of the problems that have been spotted so far. It remains to be seen how big an improvement it will be, but it's good to see the company working on bringing improvements so quickly. In theory, the driver is always responsible for the vehicle even with this, but in practice, we've seen people using it on roads where they aren't supposed to, and not keeping their hands on the wheels... The faster they make it safer and more reliable, the better.
Which brings us to "improved fleet learning." This is Tesla's not-so-secret weapon when it comes to self-driving vehicles. While Google and possibly Apple have a few prototypes that are driving around and gathering data, Tesla is learning from tens of thousands of vehicles which are uploading data back to the mothership, which is using what it learns to improve the software for the whole fleet and then the cycle starts again. It's a powerful flywheels that might be hard for the competition to duplicate for a while.
Regulatory approvals received, so Autopilot rolling out to all countries! (Excluding Japan, which is still under review)— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 23, 2015
Musk also revealed that the Autopilot is rolling out outside of the US, except in Japan. That was quick!